FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president
NJ-SPJ statement on search warrant issued against New Brunswick Today
The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly objects to a decision by a Superior Court judge to authorize a local police department to execute a search warrant against New Brunswick Today in order to recover an old water meter that the newspaper was using to investigate alleged corruption at the New Brunswick Water Utility.
The search warrant was signed by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Colleen M. Flynn at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20. Less than a half hour later, two New Brunswick Police officers knocked on the doors of the newspaper in search of the water meter as well as the memory card from the camera that was used to produce a broadcast about the water utility. After a cordial 13-minute conversation that was recorded on video by Editor Charlie Kratovil, Kratovil turned the water meter over to the police.
As for the memory card, the broadcast was live streamed on Facebook so no such storage device exists, Kratovil told the officers.
NJ-SPJ takes search warrants against news organizations very seriously. Such search warrants are rare. They can have chilling effects on journalists and deter them from investigating instances of government misconduct. They also circumvent the New Jersey Shield Law and the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 which were enacted to protect against such governmental seizures by providing a judicial subpoena process where journalists and news organization have an opportunity to be heard before being required to disclose or provide such sought after material.
In this case, the water meter was given to Kratovil by a confidential source, and it was featured in a video that was posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page on Dec. 16. In that video, Kratovil showed viewers an old water meter that he said came from a local business where, curiously, the meter showed water usage to be zero.
“I don’t know,’’ Kratovil told his viewers. “It looks like this meter might have seen a little bit more water go through it. We’ve been exploring what could potentially lead to this, and we actually showed this to someone who used to work at the New Brunswick Water Utility, and he said – and I quote – ‘This is proof there is a crime committed here.’ ’’
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